NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Gatorade Duel
Topics: Gatorade Duel 1
February 15, 2007
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA
THE MODERATOR: We're pleased to be joined in the media center by the winner of our second Gatorade duel, that's Jeff Gordon, and he, of course, is the driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet. Jeff leads all active drivers with 13 victories here at the Daytona International Speedway, and he'll be gunning for his fourth Daytona 500 come Sunday. Jeff, talk about your run out there today. Nice job.
JEFF GORDON: Thank you very much. Obviously it was very exciting, those closing laps. For most of the race, our race was pretty calm compared to that first one, and just kind of riding there and feeling with the car was doing and seeing if any shuffling or momentum was going to come and sort of trying to stay in position getting towards the end, which wasn't exactly easy. I got shuffled back.
Early on there I tried to get a run on somebody, actually Montoya got a run on me, which was great for him. I thought he did a good job. I hated to see him have his problems, and he had a strong car as well as David Stremme.
Then when he had his problems, I got kind of caught in the middle there, and when the caution came back out there late, obviously it was about making decisions, and Steve and I were on the radio discussing that if the guys ahead of us stayed out, we'd come in, and if they came in, we'd stay out.
So obviously taking those two tires made a huge difference, and of course it helped a lot to get those pushes from Yeley and Stremme there at the end, and probably somebody else, too. I can't remember, a lot went on those last couple laps.
Q. What would it mean for you to win Sunday and tie Dale Earnhardt for the most wins in the modern era?
JEFF GORDON: I've been getting that question a lot lately. I'd just like to get another win. Just like going to victory lane today, it just feels amazing. There's no greater feeling than winning a race. Of all the competitors out there, you want to be the first one to cross the line. We did that today. It felt great, and hopefully we can do that again on Sunday, and if we can't this Sunday, we'll try to do it another Sunday.
I think it just -- because of being at 75, one away from Earnhardt, I think that it makes that next one that much more special, and I can't think of a more incredible place to do it than here in Daytona.
I get asked a lot about it so it's hard for me to get away from because I'm trying not to think about it that much because I've never really been one to go off of stats and try to match a number or beat a number, it's just that you're out there as a competitor trying to win.
Q. With everything that's happened this week with all the stuff that's happened with NASCAR and the penalties and the suspensions, was it kind of nice to get back to racing? And how much more racing are we going to have to get to finally get this behind us where we're talking about racing and not cheating?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I mean, that's up to you guys and the guys that are -- have gotten themselves into trouble. I mean, we've been a part of it in the past. Most people have. But I think NASCAR continues to try to set the precedent to prevent it from happening, and the fines go up, the penalties are more severe, and yet we still continue to see it.
You know, obviously this week has been pretty mindboggling when you look at the severity of it and the consequences that come along with that. I mean, even the 55 being in the race, which that was -- they did a fantastic job today to get all three cars in the race. I think that even with that, they're behind the eight ball when this race is over because he's already lost 100 points.
That certainly has gotten a lot of attention for a lot of the teams out there, but it was nice to get out there and just go racing. I mean, I've been glued to the TV as much as anybody else waiting to see what's going to happen, and between that and Anna Nicole Smith, I just can't seem to get myself away from the TV (laughter). And I complain about it, too. I'm like, "Why am I watching this? This is silly. This is not anything important in life, but yet I'm watching it."
So I look forward to us all moving away from it. I think until we get out of Daytona, maybe at the end of Sunday night when we have a winner of the Daytona 500, maybe then we'll get past it, but who knows, it might take a while.
Q. Watching Juan Pablo Montoya in the first 23 laps, did you see any mistake or something that could be a disadvantage for him on Sunday?
JEFF GORDON: No. Everything I saw, he did very well. He passed me. I feel like I'm one of the harder guys to pass out there. I'd like to think so, anyway. He got a really good push from some guys behind him. I was watching my mirror really good, and I saw him with the momentum, and I was going to try to use his momentum to make some passes, and instead I got shuffled back.
If anybody made the mistake, it was me. We never really got far enough into the race to find out what was really going to -- at that point I think everybody was pretty content with him leading, and I was running third, and then -- I don't know if maybe Kyle saw where he had some problem or if we just -- the momentum shifted and we had a run on him.
You know, there's obviously, especially when it comes to restrictor plate racing, there's a lot to learn. I don't know if we were able to teach him anything because he went out unfortunately a little early. I don't know if he got back out there or what happened, I just was dealing with my own race after that.
Q. I know you guys can't go out and intentionally do this, but given everything that's happened this week, how much do we really need, for lack of a better word, a race of the ages this Sunday to kind of really establish some of the integrity for the fans to have them believe that this is a great sport?
JEFF GORDON: Well, we need to race like we have during that second duel 150. I think the outcome would be perfect, too. If it was just like that on Sunday. If we could script that, that would be fine with me.
I'm concerned because we've got a really hard right side tire, and I talked to Goodyear about it, and it's because the bigger the fuel cells, they're able to go further and they had some concerns. So between that fuel cell and this restrictor plate, it's taken away from the racing a little bit, but yet we saw some pretty exciting action the closing laps really of both races.
I'm hoping that we see more of that on Sunday and really give the fans a show because here at Daytona and Talladega are some of the showcase events that we have that put on some of the best most exciting racing. I was concerned coming into this race that we weren't going to see very good racing, and yet we did. So I hope that we continue to see that on Sunday.
Q. In all the various forms of racing you've been involved in, do you mind giving us a sense of how common or uncommon it was to see fuel additives being used, and by contrast, how relatively uncommon I guess that's been at the Cup level and how it's viewed at the Cup level? And then lastly, given that that was at issue with the 55, do you feel the 55 deserves to race in the Daytona 500?
JEFF GORDON: Man, how do you answer that?
Q. Well, other people have expressed an opinion on it.
JEFF GORDON: I don't want to express my opinion on that (laughter). But I will anyway, you know.
Well, I mean, obviously in our series it's been -- it hasn't been very common. We haven't seen -- that I know of, we haven't seen anything like that really in the time I've been racing in the Cup Series. I don't know if I've ever seen anybody get caught doing it. There's a big difference between doing it and getting caught doing it.
You know, we're here in Daytona, this is a big race, there's a lot on the line, especially when you take the guys that are not locked in. I think I find it more surprising the guys that did it that were in the top 35 in points. The guys outside the top 35 in points, especially Michael, he's got a lot riding on these three teams, a lot invested in these three teams, making the Daytona 500, and his whole season can revolve around him making this race.
So you can kind of understand why those guys would really go outside the boundaries. It doesn't make it right and it doesn't mean that you're not going to get a big penalty if you get caught. It's risk versus reward, and I guess for those guys, they chose that that was enough -- that there was a potential reward there to make the Daytona 500 that it was worth the risk, but I'm sure now maybe they're rethinking it.
I hate it for the sport to see the focus get turned to that, but I will say the drama always outweighs just pure excitement. It seems to get more attention. So for that part, I mean, it's drawing attention to the sport. Now I hope, like the last question, that we can now get this attention and get people watching it and now go out on Sunday and put on an awesome, exciting, three-wide battle to the finish. It's going to balance itself out.
What was the second part of the question?
Q. Did you used to see that kind of stuff in midgets or --
JEFF GORDON: Oh, my gosh, yeah. The difference in other series is that they cheat ten times as much, it's just you don't have NASCAR officials there checking every little thing.
I will say that fuel -- back when I was racing go-karts, everybody mixed stuff in the fuel because there was nobody really there to check it. You know, through the history of racing, people are always trying to circumvent the rules and get around those gray areas, and I think that a lot of people people's theory is that you're not cheating if you're not getting caught.
NASCAR, that was a pretty severe penalty. Was it severe enough, which is what your question was, I don't know how to answer that because NASCAR is in a very tough position when it comes to these things. They need these teams to be healthy and strong to make it week to week. The business model of racing is not a pretty one.
If you take somebody like Michael Waltrip and his race team that has so much invested, and their sponsors, you know, everything is on the line and they don't race in the Daytona 500, then that team -- you don't know how long they can survive.
So NASCAR is weighing that out along with making sure that they show everybody that you can't do what they did. I feel like the penalty that they gave him shows that, definitely. It was the most severe penalty we've ever seen, and we'll find out at the end of the year just how devastating it was to that team.
Q. Going back to the decision on the final caution to go with the two tires, obviously you're trying to win this race, but also, are you trying to figure out with the new tires what you can do in that situation for Sunday? Are you trying to figure out what's the right thing to do if you're going to be faced with something like that?
JEFF GORDON: Absolutely. That was another one of the things that Steve Letarte and I talked about on the radio during that caution, and he said it. He said it's kind of something we'd like to check out to see how it will work for us. Somebody had said, and it might be just rumor, that Junior took two in the first race.
Obviously it depends on how many laps there are to go, who you've got pushing you, all those things. But it was definitely something we were glad we got an opportunity to try, and you'll probably see a lot more of that happening on Sunday.
Q. Obviously the two tires made a difference, but where were you during the early part of the race? What problems did you have and what put you in the position to get that last pit stop?
JEFF GORDON: Well, when we first started the race, we kind of tucked in there at like third or something like that, and like I was mentioning earlier, Juan Pablo got a run and a push from behind, I think it was by the 5 car, and he took advantage of that push and he made a pass and I got shuffled back a couple stops.
And then later when Juan had his trouble and I went to the inside and Kyle went to the outside, as we got past the start finish line, the 2 was able to get to my inside, so I got shuffled back again on that one. Then the caution came out.
You know, we were in a position -- you know, everything depends on position. I mean, we were sitting there, what, sixth or seventh, and that's a great position to be in to be able to make a call like that. So it really worked to our favor. And in the Daytona 500 on Sunday, if we're in that same position it can work out, as well, but there's going to be a lot more cars out on the track. It just depends. This one worked out for us because a lot of guys came behind us and we had fresher tires than guys ahead of us. I'm glad we tried it now and glad it worked out today.
Q. The way things played out at the end of your race, the tire situation, it looked like there was a great deal of difference between the handling between the cars that pitted or didn't pit. If a scenario like that plays out the middle of the 500 or towards the end of the race, do you get the feeling that the race is going to get really dicey and treacherous in those kind of situations given the difference it looked like out there tonight?
JEFF GORDON: I can guarantee it's going to get treacherous no matter what kind of tires we have on the car. When you've got the Daytona 500 out there at stake and everything riding on the line, guys go for it, and the guys that go for it are the ones that are either going to win or they're going to wreck. So we've seen -- I know in just about every one of the Daytona 500s that I've ever won you had to take some risk and make some bold moves that could have worked for you or might not, and I think that even that pass today was a little bit riskier than I wanted to be in the closing laps of the 150 because I wanted to make sure we had the car in one piece, but at the same time I had the momentum and I didn't want to stop it and I wanted to win.
I think you're going to see a lot more of that. But I know what you're saying with the closing rate and all that if the tires are working a little bit better. The tires definitely played a role in allowing me to make some moves there, but at the same time it was more of the push that I got from behind by the 40 car who stayed out. So I think that you'll see that whether guys take tires or not.
Q. With that finish you think of the difference between 1st and 2nd, obviously you always want to win every race, but with the new points system, is that something that you're a fan of, and do you think that's something that is going to be a big difference this year?
JEFF GORDON: Oh, I always love rewarding wins. I think that it's definitely a good thing. You know, until it plays out, I'm going to kind of wait and see how that works. But usually NASCAR has models that they punch in stats from previous years, and that's usually where they come up with some of those decisions. I'm guessing that they saw some things that they liked, and I think that it is incentive to try to take more risks and win, even though I don't know what more we can do to try to win. We're doing it every weekend.
It could make for a little bit more excitement, we'll see. But I think that the only thing that I'm not sure about is if you're leading the points, there's a possibility you could be 12th in points after the Chase, when the Chase starts.
I don't know if I agree with that. I think that if you're going to do that, give some bonus for leading the points at race 26. Give us something, whether it's money, points, something to be a bonus to be leading the points. I think the leader at that point should still be the leader, no matter how many races he's won.
Q. Tony Stewart certainly has grabbed a lot of attention with the win so far early in Speed Weeks. From your seat in the car, is that truly the best car out there, and what is he doing that's put him up there, and what do you have to do over the next couple days to kind of even that field up for Sunday?
JEFF GORDON: No doubt about it, I think he's the guy to beat. I think they've got a really well-handling race car. Tony is a great driver and he does well in the draft. I think that he's been -- he's showcased that for the last several years. Daytona is a handling racetrack. It's so much different than Talladega. Talladega, not saying he wouldn't be just as strong there, but he's strong here at Daytona because you've got to drive the car, you've got to get the car handling well with the crew chief and the team, and if you notice, he didn't qualify spectacular. Usually that's a sign that he's probably got a little bit more drag or downforce in the car, which might make the car drive a little bit better.
That was one of my big concerns is that we were qualifying well, we were running really good by ourselves, and I think we got a little bit too little downforce and too little drag in the car, and we've got to really build some downforce to get the car handling just a little bit better.
I would have guessed Tony would have been one of the cars to beat before the Shootout and today's race, and I think that just these last two wins of his just make him that much more of the target on Sunday and the guy to beat.
Q. Is that harder or easier, having that target on your back at Speed Week?
JEFF GORDON: Well, he's got confidence because he's winning, the car is doing everything he wants, he's comfortable, so that's a plus. But at the same time if guys out there want to gang up on you, that can make it tougher. As long as he's got some friends, which he and the 8 car work real well together, and Tony and I have worked well together in the past, as well. But we're all going to try to win the race when it comes down to the end.
Q. You touched on it earlier. Just for fun, you were talking about how in other racing series they do a lot crazier things. Back in your day what were some of the wilder things --
JEFF GORDON: Soaking tires has always been the wildest and craziest thing. I hear rumors and stuff of guys -- I've always heard this more with stock cars because guys that work for our team, they're guys that grew up racing late models or modifieds and stuff, and not many of them worked on midgets and sprint cars, and they always talk about soaking tires and big carburetors. It's either horsepower or grip in some way, some fashion. So you hear those guys say, oh, yeah, we used to do this, we used to do this, we used to do this. They just, again, didn't have the restrictions, the rule book and the people governing that like we do here in this series.
It is something that goes on in racing. When the sport is as big as our sport is, it's sort of a -- it's just something that you don't want it to be a part of the sport. So it's tough because you get the guys with that mentality of bringing that from what they grew up with and then they come in here and they go, no, you can't do that, you can't do that, you can't do that, and they're like, oh, how do I get into that gray area.
I talked to a crew chief the other day that told me it's so tough because I've got management that gets on me if I qualify 30th, but yet if I do things that I think other teams might be doing to make me go faster to qualify up front and I get caught doing it, then I might get fired.
So I feel sorry for these crew chiefs sometimes with the decisions that they have to make because sometimes you're better off getting beat up for some qualifying good than getting fired or getting in trouble for doing something you shouldn't be doing.
Q. You touched on the drafting partners. Obviously you need a partner here. We saw Kyle drop pretty dramatically today when he was hung out, and you have a history of not having a lot of friends. What do you think your condition is for this week?
JEFF GORDON: Well, it's true, I don't have a lot of drafting partner friends out there, but yet we've been able to win some races. You know, I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing, and throughout the race if I can help some guys out early in the race, maybe he'll come back to help me.
You know, sometimes guys work with other guys because they're buddies off the track, not necessarily because they're buddies on the track. Sometimes you've got that going against you or for you. So obviously we'll try to work with our teammates to go the best we can there and maybe make or find some friends -- just because you have somebody that works well with you doesn't mean you're always going to be nose to tail to be able to make that work and make it happen. And usually somebody is giving up something to be that. I think that's probably one of the reasons why I haven't had a lot of friends out there because I want to be the guy leading, not the guy pushing. I don't mind pushing for certain periods of time until it's time to go, and then I feel like I want to get myself into position the best I can, and that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to do that on Sunday, and I'm hoping that I don't make any enemies along the way doing that.
Q. Any thoughts on Juan and how he's doing, and have you talked to him at all about I guess the whole season and what to expect?
JEFF GORDON: We've talked a little bit. Every time I see him I ask him how he's doing, and he's like, "great." He's got a positive attitude, he seems to be enjoying himself, and I think it's great.
I think that this 500-mile race here is going to be -- he's going to learn a lot. I think this is a tough race, hard to be patient, and experience is key. But he already showed with lack of experience, he drove right to the front. I think his talent overrides a lot of the lack of experience that he has, and I think we'll see a lot of that from here to wherever we go.
I mean, it's been two races. So hard to really judge it off that, but from what I can see, he's doing great.
Q. There's a report out there that your car has failed inspections too low. Have you heard anything about that?
JEFF GORDON: No, but I'm sure that I'll get penalized if I did.
Q. What do you think the penalty should be for something like that?
JEFF GORDON: What do I think it should be? Are you serious? That sucks. I don't know. I'm mad about that right now.
I mean, what do I think it should be? It's whatever NASCAR decides for it to be. That's what it should be. I mean, I think I should start the Daytona 500 on Sunday, but where I start will be the other thing.
I hate to hear that, that sucks. That definitely takes away from -- I'm curious to know how low it is. If we're talking a millimeter, that's one thing. If we're talking a half an inch, then that's something different.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Jeff.
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